August 22, 2014
“The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
If you really want to know which way the wind is blowing, fly down to Sweetwater, Texas. During the late Nineteen Nineties George Bush and Ann Richards set aside their political differences to create the most progressive wind tax credit in the country.
Companies flocked into places like Sweetwater, providing jobs and making farmers and ranchers rich beyond their wildest dreams. And, West Texas became the largest producer of wind energy in the nation. At one point the two richest wind power billionaires in the world both lived side by side each other in Sweetwater and used to josh each other about all their riches during the town’s Friday night football games.
Wind energy did so well that people started to look for problems. Mitt Romney led the charge by saying that the federal wind tax program started by George Bush senior was inherently unfair and that he wanted a level playing field — as if the oil, gas and nuclear industries didn’t enjoy grants and subsidies! Grants and subsidies are about as American as apple pie. They are also the reason we have all those nice things we enjoy like universities, the High-Tech gadgets, and the Internet.
In 2012 the Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity, followed on by starting an advertising campaign claiming that “Far left European groups and other radical elements of the environmental movement were behind the tax credit.” And Koch-supported representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas sent a letter signed by 52 colleagues to the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee urging him to let the federal wind tax credit program die when it came up for renewal.
The Texas Tea Party piled on. Their main reason for opposing wind energy seemed to be that President Obama was for it. So they figured it must be some kind of effete East Coast boutiquey sort of energy, not the masculine, polluting kind that Texas should be known for.
But Republican congressmen throughout the country heard the Tea Party message and voted out the federal wind tax credit in 2013. The result? Energy from new wind turbines plummeted by 92% and 30,000 jobs went down the tubes.
Texas Governor Rick Perry had once pledged $10 billion dollars in private investment to the wind industry was attacked for his perfidy, “Perry joins Enron’s Ken Lay and George Bush as fathers of the Great Texas Wind Power Malinvestment.”
Of course Perry reversed himself when he ran for President. But the irony remained that 82% of all the wind farms in the United States and almost all the wind farms in Texas are located in Republican Congressional districts.
But aside from these political considerations, there are some technical problems with wind energy. They all stem from the fact that wind doesn’t blow all the time. This creates additional transmission costs for the $7 billion power lines that connect Dallas and Houston to the West Texas wind fields.
But the greatest advantage of wind energy for drought-addled Texas is that wind turbines don’t use and pollute massive amounts of water like the oil, gas and nuclear industries. At the present moment, fracking is having its day in the sun, but in the long run, solar, wind and hydrogen gas will be the way to go, and one way to get there will be through tax credits.
William Sargent is a member of Storm Surge. His latest book, Islands in the Storm is available in local bookstores and through www.strawberryhillpress.com and Amazon.com.